Knocking down the walls: What it’s like to work with Alastair Clarkson

We had just lost our preliminary final against Melbourne; I was disappointed, frustrated and upset about what could have been.

After the last game of the season, most teams will have a “Mad Monday” to celebrate the season that was. I had other things on my mind as I was about to embark on another challenge: the new development coach in North Melbourne’s men’s program.

Alastair Clarkson and Emma Kearney at North Melbourne training. Credit:Nathan John, North Melbourne FC

Despite having been at the club for the past five years, as a player and as an employee in the club’s community arm, The Huddle, I was nervous to start. There were times I doubted my decision to move into this role. I knew I had the skill set, but imposter syndrome started rearing its ugly head.

My first week on the job I felt like I was on work experience, soaking in as much knowledge as I could from the coaching team consisting of arguably the best modern-day coach, Alastair Clarkson, and experienced assistant coaches John Blakey, Jordan Russell, Leigh Adams and Brett Ratten. It didn’t take long for me to know that my decision to move into coaching full-time was the right call.

When I was first introduced to “Clarko” I wasn’t sure what to expect. My perception of Clarko is certainly different to the man himself. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, he’s supportive of his players and takes the time to form strong relationships.

He has a cheeky side, which helps connects players and coaches, always enjoying some banter or giving someone a nickname. If you don’t have a nickname yet, don’t worry, he’ll soon find one for you.

Alastair Clarkson addresses his players at pre-season training.Credit:Getty Images

In a few short months he has had a massive impact on the club both culturally and physically. I say physically because once he was announced as head coach, he started rearranging the set-up of the administration building, knocking down walls to create a space where the football department was the centre of the football club. The reconfiguration of the space allows staff from other departments to listen in to meetings and game reviews.

The “nothing-to-hide” philosophy has created an environment where everyone feels more connected. When Clarko speaks, everyone listens. His resume speaks for itself and his attention to detail in how he sees the game is like nothing I’ve seen before.

When looking back at training and game vision, he picks out different details that most people wouldn’t notice. It’s these little things that are making a huge difference in how the players are developing.

It’s his experience as an educator which also allows him to engage the players, be it through small group meetings, his questioning, and limiting meetings that have the lecture style format, which is the least effective way to learn.

The side that most people wouldn’t see is his genuine care for the community and the club’s members and fans. It was on full display during the summer school holidays. The boys finished training earlier than expected and he told the players to have a kick with some kids who had come to watch training. This became a regular feature for the remainder of the holidays. The smiles on both kids and parents demonstrates the impact Clarko is having both on and off the field.

There’s a real sense from everyone at the club that the culture is changing. It won’t be a short journey, but it’s one I’m loving being involved with.

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